Monday, January 21, 2013

Amusement Land of Suzhou China



Our first attempt to go to Suzhou Amusement Land ended very quickly.  We went from the second stop on the metro (our street) to the third from the end of the line only to exit the metro to pouring rain.  Still, since we were pretty excited after seeing the entry gate, we tried to buy tickets under our umbrellas.  Clearly we should have realized that the big red Chinese characters meant that the park had been closed early but you never really know here in China.



Attempt number two went much more smoothly…except for the beginning, which I was not a fan of at all.  On the short walk from the metro escalator to the park entrance, a few street vendors/entertainers roam.  Some offer to take your picture for a price, some try to use their very weak children to sell you light up swords or flowers, and some THROW THEIR MONKEY AT YOU FOR MONEY.  I saw it only for a split second before Michelle was leaving me behind and suddenly there was a leashed monkey attached to my leg.  His owner was saying, “Money (English). Money(Chinese),” and holding out his little cup.  So here I was trying to get this animal off my leg and when I finally succeeded he threw it right back there.  This monkey wasn’t Abu from Aladdin either.  Basically I felt that it was satin himself clinging to my leg. Clearly it was trained to hug my leg as long it could, rodeo style in this case.  I freaked out a little while I was probably strangling the monkey to death by pulling on its leash and telling the guy to get lost. Michelle was at least five steps above me moving quickly further away, not even looking at me. All the while I never stopped walking so from afar it probably looked like when little kids cling on to their parents leg because it’s fun/funny. Except the big different here was that it wasn’t a tiny kid that you like.  It was some demon animal slave that I needed off of me. Finally I was able to punt the little guy off me for a third time and the guy got the point that I wasn’t going to give him any surrender cash.

I survived the attack/entertainment, we got our tickets, and we entered the park. We didn’t exactly know where to go at first but after a quick spin around we decided to take the path left, which coincidentally happened to be American/British street…home sweet home.  We took the stroll down the street and headed to the haunted house.  Michelle told me that she “might die," as many things could kill her easily which I have learned, if we went in.  Later she did work up the confidence to go in but we found that they were charging a few extra RMB so we decided against it on principle alone.  We made a bee-line for the next ride which happened to be a small rollercoaster.  All seemed legit until for some reason they only sent one 4-person car at a time.  We quickly figured out that the structure would crumble to the ground if they added any more weight.  Was that steel holding the rollercoaster up or bamboo? We waited for our turn, had fun, and didn’t die.

Just like the real America
 
Next, we explored the amusement park without any direction whatsoever.  While exploring, we found that everyone had maps but us.  Of course the confused Americans don’t know what’s going on. Our exploration took us through pirate town, Venice, and old mining town. No one seemed to be in the Venice part which was a little weird even though the park wasn’t completely crowded since it is winter.  We just figured it was another China thing we didn’t understand.
Just a regular bear with a tie that happens to be named Yogi.

 Another ride that highlighted our trip was called the Alien Spaceship Army or something like that.  The name was about space, the sign explained some type of space war, and even the building was shaped like a spaceship.  Obviously this ride was  going to be about space, right? If you guessed YES then you are WRONG because you forgot or didn’t know how China actually works.  When we entered everyone stood in the middle and there were screens 360 degrees around us.  The ride started and we quickly found ourselves BLASTING O-in the Tour De France… Yes, no aliens, space, or even flight, just 1980s footage of professional biking while our platform moved to make it feel like we were moving along with the riders.  People on the ride were either SUPER IMPRESSED or on the brink of falling asleep.  We were somewhere in the middle leaning toward sleep. I think we’ve found a pretty clear answer to your advertising question Suzhou Amusement Land (Why go to Disney when you can go to Suzhou Amusement Land?).

Lance Armstrong 3000 IN SPACE.
 
Back to exploring the park mapless which allowed us to marvel at the Chinese fashion that usually always involves a ton of fur and things shaped like cute animals (hats, gloves, backpacks, etc).  More often than not the cute animal is a kitten or panda (see previous blog for panda hat). We also saw how China does cotton candy in theme parks and boy do they do it wrong.  This time their wrong is a lot better than being right!  Children and adults have cotton candy sticks that measure over 2, sometimes 2.5 feet.  It’s quite a ridiculous sight to see people eat cotton candy that towers over their head. Later we tried the popcorn and of course, like everything in Suzhou it was sweet instead of salty; so basically it tasted like kettle corn.  Michelle enjoyed it either way.

Universal's got nothing on this

















The next few rides included a copy of the jungle ride in Disney World WITH GUNS and a copy off of It’s a Small World from Disney World too.  The jungle ride was pretty sweet since you got to shoot jungle animals, control the direction of your car, and receive a score at the end. You know my newfound hate for monkeys put our car’s score at the top with 22, which seemed to be almost double any other car.  I made sure to mess up the monkey real bad when we passed by. Too bad there wasn’t a plastic monkey trainer to shoot at. It’s a Small World: China edition was pretty funny to us.  There were the typical small creepy people that are supposed to represent cultures around the world but China decided to add rats, pandas, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles along with many more animal people. To make things more exciting the people in our boat were standing up during a portion so that they could get a scenic photo while inside the ride. When we exited the worker was extremely proud to drop a “Bye Bye” at us, proving her English skills were top notch.

China wanted to cover all nationalities









After covering the entire park, acquiring a map by using made up sign language to a police officer (Michelle drew an imaginary square while I acted out opening a book/map), and taking the train that, for some reason, only has one stop and goes in a circle around the park, we decided to take the cable car up the small mountain/hill (think upgraded Mt. Holly with ledges and rocks).  This was probably the best part of the whole park and for some lucky guests who got to waive at us through the glass windows of the car due to our celebrity status.  The trails on top of the mountain were pretty cool especially since, in typical China NO RULES style, you were free to climb or hang off any edge you felt like hanging off of.  Michelle and I spent a good amount of time walking up the stairs that were carved into the rock.  Since they were carved in these steps were not your normal steps.  Some were really tiny while others you had to climb up to make it.

Chains on the least dangerous parts of the path
The climb about halfway down
  
Once we reached the top and received yet another proud “Hello” from the bros hanging out on Pride Rock, we didn’t feel like taking the cable car back down, so we hiked down the rough ‘stairs’ instead.  While following Michelle’s slow, baby steps down we found an abandoned path so we ducked under the bushes that grew over it and traveled up to the small peak.  The backpack I had on got stuck so it took me an extra minute to meet up with Michelle who easily fits through small spaces.  After snapping a few more pics we winded down the path by a group of people who were about 1/3 of the way up and already completely out of breath.  

The earmuffs are for balance on dangerous climbs
 

 Lastly, we visited the amusement park’s versions of Greece, Egypt, Pirate World, and an arcade that had a pretty cool game where you kick a soccer ball at a net and try to hit the top corners for more points.  Each were pretty cool sights.  A man and woman pushing their strollers up a heavy incline and local tourists taking photos while they stood in the water of the fountain were my personal favorite moments.

Fountains in China: Newly Est 2013
Good they they installed stroller ramps!



The park was a lot of fun.  It was probably a bit overpriced by Suzhou standards but overall it was definitely worth it.  Theme park wise our next visits may include Dinosaur Land, Happy Valley, and fake Universal Studios which seems to be partly themed after Star/Warcraft…We exited the park happily but then I remembered that we were not safe….I saw the path to the metro station and it wasn’t a clear path at all.  THREE STREET ENTERTAINERS AND THREE MONKEYS ROAMING FOR VICTIMS!  Usually it is Michelle who says that she will die in situations but I don’t think I could have taken another monkey incident, let alone 3X the monkey.  So, we started on our way.  I was trying to keep it cool. Michelle wasn’t fazed at all for some reason. She literally said that she wouldn’t even think twice and “stomp it to death” with her new boots (see old blog) if it touched her.  I’m usually the calm one but all I could think about was how I was going to have to use my backpack as some type of weapon to fend them off ….Well, anyway they didn’t approach us but they did go up to other couple. I noticed that this couple did not have the monkey thrown at them but instead the man held it on his arm next to them and let it dance or something.  That would have been much better.  Maybe he figured that under-handing a live animal at someone is not a way to do business. 

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

New Year's Eve

Video update of our life in China so far.



The initial plan was to show up at one of the bars or restaurants that are dubbed ‘expat hangouts’ in Suzhou for New Year’s Eve.  This plan was loosely created about two days before the holiday.  One day later we decided to completely shake things up and head to Shanghai for the night since our schools gave us January 1st, 2nd, and 3rd off. 

Booking the cheap hotel near the area of interest was quite easy.  Getting the train tickets for the first time was a different experience.  The secondary train station near us takes 30-40 minutes by bus because you have to transfer.  We arrived the day before our trip, passports in hand, and attempted to use the automated ticket booth with the option to use English.  We quickly found out that we needed a Chinese ID to operate the machine so we wrote down all the information about the ticket we wanted to purchase and handed the clerk the paper with a “Ni hao” and a smile.  He gave us a weird look (foreshadowing), he took our passports, and we bought the tickets.  A one way to Shanghai cost about $5 USD.

Step two involved us figuring out how to use a taxi, without speaking Chinese, which we had not done yet.  After school we met up at our apartment, ate, and tried to flag a taxi down out front.  We were unable to do so at first since many Chinese workers had New Years off the next day and most of the taxis were being used. After a bit of time and a lot of worrying we found an empty taxi and gave him directions using made up sign language and showing him our train tickets.  

We arrived at our train station (Suzhou Yuanqu) and found that the big board of train numbers did not match the number on our tickets.  We showed a worker them and she took us to the same skeptical ticket clerk who told us that we were at the wrong station.  I had been worried that our tickets stated that our departure station was Suzhou instead of Suzhou Yuanqu but I’ve seen weirder things here in China.   They nicely switched our tickets over and even gave us some change back even though the amount didn’t really make any sense.

Now that we mastered how to use taxis and buy a train ticket correctly, we actually boarded the train when it arrived.  Michelle was worried because some people had sat in our seat but I reminded her that we were in China.  The train was really cool.  The interior is set up like the inside of a place with three seats on both sides.  The actual ride itself was really short as we covered what would be an hour and a half car ride in about 25 minutes.  The top speed that the train hit was around 300km/h or 186mph.


We pulled into the Shanghai station, obviously feeling a little uneasy at the new experiences of traveling in China.  But when we exited the train it was clear that getting around wouldn’t be a problem.  We didn’t have any hiccups with the subway since we have our own in Suzhou that is similar and Michelle is a pro from her New York days.  Michelle even tried to use her subway street cred on some American tourists that were clearly confused on how to use the ticket machine.


 We grabbed our minimal bags and exited after only 3 or 4 stops to Nanjing Lu Road.   Nanjing Lu is one of the main pedestrian shopping streets in Shanghai and all of China.  It looks heavily influence from NYC’s Time Square especially at night with all of the lights on.  People completely filled the streets all around.  Many of them where wearing or holding some type of light up hat or toy that they purchased from the street vendors.  After a twenty minute walk because of the crowds, we located our hotel in which Michelle was NOT impressed by the exterior.  I assured her that this would definitely be a 5 star stay and we entered.  Check in went smoothly as many people in Shanghai speak English.  

The paintings are one of a kind works
After we had a look around our room, we had a quick culture shock laugh due to its tiny size.  The hotel room was good enough for just what we were looking to use it for.  One tiny room contained a bed, a noisy heater, a TV, some slippers, and a bathroom (which I took advantage of unlimited hot water showering in the morning).  We both relaxed for bit before we started our New Year’s Eve out.

Nanjing Road
Some of the many signs that fill the pedestrian road
People were everywhere, both as tourists and sales people.  Michelle expressed her want for a light up rose that was being sold.  Challenge accepted.  I planned on completing my first successful negotiation to obtain this rose.   The going price was around RMB 25 ($4usd) and I offered RMB 10 (>$2 usd).  Once I put this offer in and the woman who was selling it rejected it and countered with RMB 20, Michelle tried to sneak away since it was too awkward for her. As she snuck away I held firm with my offer but she didn’t budge.  I then strategically used the ‘walk away’ technique where I slowly left hoping the price would come down.  Her price did come down to RMB15 while she followed me and then finally to RMB 10 which I accepted.  While negotiating I’m not exactly sure what Michelle was doing.  She explained that she watched some guy drop something on fire into a sewer…

The blue glow of successful bargaining
  Next, we grabbed some food and made our way down Nanjing Lu which extends all the way to the Bund.  On our way there were many police and army men because of the sheer number of people.  I’m not sure if it was because we aren’t Chinese citizens or because it wasn’t our American army in the street, but it definitely made us feel different.  

Nanjing Lu’s river of people flowed out into the Bund where we were met at an almost standstill because of the density.  We found what we believed would be an OK spot to watch the light show that was going to be on our side of the river.  Michelle and I weren’t cold at all since the crowd added about 15 degrees to the temperature.  The flashing lights from the toys and hats that everyone bought was quite the sight. Michelle held her blue light-up rose to add to all of the colors.


 Finally after about 45 minutes of waiting the light show started at about 11:45 pm on the face of a few of the buildings.  We imagine that the show would have been really cool, but only if you had a direct angle.  Most of the hundreds of thousands of people that tried to watch on their tip toes could not fully see the 3D effects being projected.  We laughed as policemen ran with groups of people up on the walkway by the river because they had not moved them in time for the show to keep them away from being too close to the fireworks that would soon follow.  

The wind helping us out with the confetti

Light show

The light show had not been the greatest thing since because of our position but bringing in the New Year by counting down in all different languages was really awesome.  Both English and Chinese numbers were heard loudly throughout The Bund area and with an explosion of confetti and fireworks; we reached ZERO and yelled Happy New Year (mostly in English from everyone).






The fireworks display was a really great experience because the Skyline of Shanghai was the background.  The fireworks were shot off of huge boats in the middle of the river.  Everyone cheered until the event was over and we flowed right back up Nanjing Lu again.   On the way Michelle and I decided to grab some street food.  There were selling large chunks of fruit on sticks, so we bought a good sized piece of watermelon and headed back to our hotel.



The next morning the weather was perfect.  It was probably the warmest New Years Day that I’ve experienced.  55 degrees and sunny.   We first headed to our favorite Chinese fast food place, McDonalds to have some breakfast/lunch.  Next, we walked out to the bund again to check out the view.  This time we were not met with the standstill crowds and we were able to go up the walkway by the river for some photos.   



 These photos, however, were not usually taken by us.  A group of girls said something to Michelle and pointed at their camera.  I was laughing really hard because I knew that Michelle had no clue what they meant.   What they wanted was to take a group picture with Michelle as the center piece.   She joined them as they clung on to her like they were the best of friends. She was such a celebrity that one girl had to switch out from taking pictures so that she could also be in the photo. The second celebrity moment was when I noticed this girl holding an iPad which was pointed toward us.  When we turned around we noticed that some other girl had already struck a peace sign pose and the photo was already taken. We continued on our celeb way.

"We've been best friends for three long minutes."

We explored the area and Nanjing Road a bit more by entering a few of the shops but we had to make our way to the train station a little bit early because we had not purchased our return tickets.  Here in Shanghai we were able to stand in the English line and receive the correct tickets home.  The first ticket available wasn’t until later so we were forced to wait a few hours.  We explored the adjacent malls that had themed floors.  Two floors for photography, two for clothing, and two for eye glasses. The malls were more like markets with rooms where people could sell their things rather than individual shops like in USA.  As it moved closer to our departure time so we entered the train station to wait.  Of course people were selling things like spinning light up toys in the waiting room.  This is China. What do you expect? 

Thanks China!

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Monday, January 7, 2013

So this is Suzhou?

Mini-Experience / Catching up part two: Our second trip to Times Square, December 14, highlights – Burger King & the Gold Fish.





On our second trip to Times Square we were in search of some Western food. So we scoped out all of our options and found ourselves looking at KFC, Pizza Hut, or Burger King. We decided on Burger King because it had the only menu we could point at and therefore the most likelihood of us actually being able to order food. I got a chicken sandwich and Tommy got a Whooper. Now, here’s the thing, had we been in the US we would never have gone to Burger King. I don’t do the BK Lounge and neither does Tommy, just not our kind of fast food. So I was mildly nervous about eating there in China since this seemed like a step backward or something. But still, it was Western food in theory. So I bite into my chicken sandwich and the first few bites are fine, then it starts feeling like rubber, then it starts tasting like rubber, then I notice mysterious grey spots in the chicken and I’m done. Tommy’s Whooper was okay, he assumes that means it’s the same as the US. I felt super gross after my food and we vowed to continue not going to BK in either country.

As we were walking over the bridge after Burger King, Tommy points to this little girl who is standing at the edge of what in the US would be a dock but in China is a sidewalk. Bear with me. All along the river that divides the parts of the mall is a sidewalk. What I mean is, even though you are right up against the river, there is no wall or railing, there is just sidewalk and then a drop into the water.

So this little girl, younger than three, is standing at the very edge of the sidewalk, her mom is literally holding onto her by her hood. Tommy asks me if he is going to have to save her if she falls in the water, I say no because he would probably die from the pollution in the river. (I.e. When Tommy asked his students what color water is they said: White (meaning clear), brown, and black. Blue was not among their responses) This water was no different, it was straight brown. Now we are at the end of the bridge, coming up fast on the little girl. Tommy asks me what’s she’s holding and several things happen at once.

I see that she is holding a clear plastic bag, I have a split second glimpse of an orange gold fish just before the little girl over turns the bag and violently shakes it. The fish plummets to the ground, it’s little fishy head smacking against the sidewalk. The shock of the fall bounces it into the brown water. The mom is screaming, pulling the little girl toward her, checking the dock for the fish, making sure the fish is in the water. Tommy and I are dying with laughter.
The goldfish release happened on the right of this photo

I’m not sure if the fish was already dead and therefore they were like returning it to its home or if they had bought the fish for the sole purpose of returning it to nature. Either way, the result would have been the same. Even if the fish hadn’t died from head trauma, it would have died from the pollution level of the water. But whatever, it was the funniest thing I’ve seen in a year!

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Catching up part three. We are still in the past, it’s December 22, we wake up at 9am so we can meet Lemon at the Lindun stop on the Subway at 10am. Lemon is an English teacher at Tommy’s school who has offered to show us around so that she and her boyfriend can practice their English. Obviously, we readily accept.

We take the thirty minute subway ride to Lindun and wait for Lemon. When she gets off the subway, she runs over to us and we go to the street where her boyfriend picks us up in his car. Lemon tells us we are going to the Suzhou Museum first. Now, normally, a trip down three blocks and parking would be boring. But this is China, so it’s anything but.

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In Suzhou, the streets are divided in four parts. On the far left and right is a bicycle / scooter lane. There is a median then two lanes of traffic then another median and two lanes of opposite moving traffic, then a divider and the opposite moving scooter lane. This is essential to the story, I promise.

So, we drive down three blocks to the street with the museum which is a no car street. Cars are parked all along the scooter lane. Lemon’s boyfriend (we have no idea what his name is) drives into the scooter lane and a parking-ish attendant runs up to us. I say –ish because I have no idea if this is his real job or if he is just a guy who makes a couple bucks on the weekend directing parking traffic. Anyway, so he and Lemon’s boyfriend duke it out about where he can park. This ends with Lemon’s boyfriend putting the car in reverse. I assume this means we are moving down the street to look for more parking. Silly me.

We reverse down the scooter road which literally fits exactly two cars side-by-side. We are driving in reverse past the other parked cars so close to us that if we rolled down the windows, we could touch the cars or, you know, break their side mirrors off. We don’t reverse for one or two car lengths. No, no. We reverse for an entire half block! The whole time the parking attendant is calling directions in Chinese, waving frantically when we get too close to some cars and finally heralding us into our own parking space.

Then we’re off to the museum. Lemon tells us it is very big and very famous in Suzhou. We’re thrilled because it’s free. So we get to the museum and go in. It was built by a very famous Chinese architect and looks really cool. We walk around the first floor which shows artifacts from China that date all the way back to 500 A.D. which is just crazy to think about. Granted, you’re looking at smoothed, rounded rock with a hole in the middle that was a hammer . . . but still, it’s fascinating that it’s that old! We saw two golden dragons from 1000 A.D. They were very thin, but detailed, very cool. Then we saw old clothing. But the thing is, there isn’t much of this stuff in the museum. There are four rooms and probably 50 artifacts in total on the first floor. The second floor was dedicated to pottery and china which was all from 1700 and onward. All very pretty and cool because there were dragons coming out of pots and stuff like that.

Then we go to the third floor which Lemon is very excited about because it’s a collection of a very very famous Chinese artist’s work. He was making these paintings on silk in the 1700s. I’m prepared to be astounded. And I am. Because we are all ooing and ahhing and taking a million pictures of art that just does nothing for me. My mind is thinking glorified stick figures because that’s what it amounts to. Very simplistic images with little stick people and stick animals. Tommy was far more optimistic pointing out that it must be very hard to paint on silk. Either way, it was a bust for me. But Lemon and the boyfriend were very happy and that’s what mattered.

And that’s it for the museumy part of the museum. The museum itself is connected to another old living area which Lemon and her boyfriend take us to. Now, I didn’t want to break it to them that we had been to a way cooler living area / garden with Uncle Leon, so we quietly went along. But this place is way lame in comparison, expect that for some reason they also keep artifacts in the old buildings which were really cool, cooler than some of the stuff in the actual museum. As we are walking to the opera room of the living area we pass this stagnant pond. And I mean stagnant. I covered my face and said, “Are you serious?” And Tommy elbowed me because obviously that wasn’t polite, but seriously. It stunk. However, the opera room are was really sweet and made up for the stink.


Once we leave the museum, Lemon asks us where we want to eat lunch, I eagerly say McDonald’s. Lemon’s boyfriend laughs and Tommy says we can go where ever. And I’m like no. I want McDonald’s. The last Western food we had was the weekend of December 7-8 when Uncle Leon took us to Shanghai. I need French fries stat. So we drive to the Suzhou walking street Guanqian Street.

Enter street parking segment two. New parking attendant, same car, less space. Lemon’s boyfriend and the parking attendant agree he should parallel park in a space that I can guarantee will not fit his car. They begin the five minute saga of getting the car into place which involves tons of shouting in Chinese, lots of hand motions, and the constant alarm beeping of Lemon’s boyfriend’s car saying we are too close to objects behind us. Somehow they manage this remarkable feat even though Tommy and I thought it a literal impossibility. It was seriously like a magic trick.




Anyway, Guanqian street! This place is fabulous! It has a bunch of stores and tons of people and food vendors. It’s very awesome and so much fun. We go to the McDonald’s there and order two cheese burgers. I devour mine in no time flat, Tommy is close behind. It’s delicious.





After lunch, we walk to Pingjiang street which is an old street where all of the street vendors come and mark out a space where they sell their little things. People are selling hats (this is where I eventually buy my Panda hat), clay figures, flowers, ear muffs, little crafts, a plethora of little things.

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From Pingjiang, we walk to the Beisi Pagoda. We have to walk past weird construction and by creepy cat to get to it, but once we do it is majorly impressive. The pagoda is 8 floors high and you get to climb up to the top then look down over Suzhou. Now, I have this bizarre phobia of stairs (ask my dad, I climbed St. Paul’s Cathedral a funeral dirge pace), but there’s no way I’m going to let new friend Lemon know this. So I stick to the back of the group and inch my way very slowly up each flight of stairs. We get to the top and the view is amazing, even though it’s so cold at the top that I think my fingers will break off. We walk around the entire top of the pagoda then head back down.





We walk around the garden of the pagoda which is great because they have all of these little hills with steps carved into the rock of the hills so I get to feel all Lord of the Rings. Lemon gtes all excited about the white pigeons we see and makes me take pictures of them. I don’t get it. They are pigeons. The only thing I know about pigeons is that you don’t let them drive the bus (Natalia & Juliet shoutout*).

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After the garden, we walk back to the car and drive to Shiquian street. This is a nice street that also has Western elements. There is Cheers bar and a Pulp Fiction bar. They have shops all along the street and Lemon takes me to the ones that sell boots because I needed to buy new boots. Mine all have heels and were killing my feet. I caved to the Uggs because literally everyone wears them here and there was no other option. We went into a shoe store that sold the Uggs I wanted and the sale’s woman asks my size. I tell her I’m a 38. She and Lemon flip out, going on and on about how HUGE my feet are and how do I find shoes. I blandly explain that I wear a 6 ½ in the US which is considered fairly small. They don’t believe me. *le sigh.

Now that we have wonderful shoes and I am doing my happy new shoes dance, Lemon gets us Coco. Coco is super popular here, like a walk up starbucks minus the coffee. They specialize in teas, specifically milk tea. I had really wanted to get Coco because it’s what everyone does and their drinks look good, but I had been afraid because I didn’t know what to order or how to order a drink from them. So I was thrilled when Lemon got us milk tea. And my life was forever changed.

Milk tea is AMAZING. It’s exactly like the tea I make at home (black tea + milk + sugar), but with more milk. It’s warm and sweet, and delicious. I was ecstatic. Walking around in my new boots and drinking my Coco. The trip was a great success. We walk through the campus of Suzhou University and Tommy and I remark that it looks like a small version of MSU and Lemon and her boyfriend laugh, telling us that it was built by an American.

Lemon tell us her boyfriend wants a real Chinese dinner (clearly he was still holding a grudge about the McDonald’s run from earlier). So we are like, yeah, okay. WORST. MISTAKE. EVER.

I will tell you now, all I ate for dinner was rice. And then Lemon told me, “You are eating too much rice.” -___- The meal started out hopeful with the waitress giving us a basket of popcorn as an appetizer. Then Lemon and her boyfriend let us look at the menu and we picked a few items, since all the food is shared at dinner. I chose fried rice and what I thought was chicken with green beans. We left the rest up to them.

Anyone who knows me mildly well knows that I don’t eat pork. I don’t eat fish. I eat chicken and I eat turkey. Pork is a big deal here. They love pork. Color me blue. So when the food comes, we get fried rice, creepy fish soup, even creepier fish soup, barbecued pork, orange pork, the chicken with not green beans, and rice soup. So I’m out for everything except the chicken and rice.

This lands Tommy with having to try everything. And he did. He was very valiant. He almost died.

Dish by dish analysis:
The fried rice was delicious. Amazing. I could have eaten it every day. Tommy agrees.

The first creepy fish soup. Huge chunks of fish floating in a reddish broth. I ask if you are supposed to scoop out the broth with the fish since it’s soup. Lemon and the boyfriend just stare at me. They pull the fish out with their chopsticks and eat it. So I guess that’s a no to the broth.
Tommy: The best part of this was that Lemon and unnamed boyfriend warned me about the bones inside of this one while I was eating it. What they didn’t tell me was that these bones were razor sharp and really thin. Basically barbed wire bones. C-
The second creepier fish soup. Lemon tells us we need to try this because it’s a Suzhou delicacy made from a fish that only lives in their lakes. I’m like no. Sorry. No. Tommy ladles some into his bowl. The fish floats to the top. It’s literally a ( as in it looks exactly like a parentheses. Not thick. Tommy eats it. I die a little on the inside. We should have known something was wrong because the Chinese leave all the bones in their food, they believe they add flavor. So tell me please, what kind of fish doesn’t have bones???
Tommy: Though this soup looked like it had some promise, especially since I’m still not sure if it was an eel I ate or if this eel/fish is still living inside of me as some type of tape worm or something, I’m going to have to give this a D in taste.
Update: After doing research, we have discovered that the fish was not cut, the fish are actually the tiny parentheses!!! Which honestly, is even more terrifying. (Again. Where are the bones??)
I was under the impression that I was eating strips of fish. I was wrong.
The barbecued pork. This was pretty normal, except it was very very small chunks of pork with a huge bone in the middle. Lemon’s boyfriend was talking to us and just casual as you please spitting these bones out as he did so.
Tommy: This dish may have been best food except I’m not quite the professional at chopsticks (Being left handed/ ambidextrous also doesn’t help), but after I realized that you didn’t have to remove the leftover bone from your mouth with them it didn’t matter. I just spit those bones out like how I imagine any African carnivore would do. Overall this food wasn’t bad. I just have to get used to the culture of enjoying things as close to being alive as possible. B-

The orange pork. Basically orange chicken but with pork. Still had bones it that you had to spit out.
Tommy: I liked this pork but it was one of the last things I ate and I only ate it because Lemon and Bf really wanted us to eat everything. B

The chicken with not green beans. So my dish finally arrives and I’m excited. Something besides rice. I chopstick a green bean eager pop it in my mouth. And my mouth is instantly on fire. Sooooooo not a green bean. Oh no. Definitely some kind of pepper. So I’m freaking out and needing water because I don’t do hot. (Flashback: Earlier we had asked for water because for some reason I have yet to learn the Chinese don’t drink anything with their meals. I explained we couldn’t drink tap water and needed bottle water. This ended with getting to steaming mugs of boiled water. I took one sip and realized I was quite likely drinking mud, because that’s exactly what it tasted like.) I by pass the mud water and go straight for the water bottle in my purse not caring that that is probably a serious faux pas. Lemon asks what’s wrong, I explain, her boyfriend then pops two peppers in his mouth and chews them happily. Cheeky internet store nerd! (He runs an online store that specializes in all the street vendor stuff like Panda Hats and is apparently very successful at it judging by the fact he owns a car). I let Tommy try the chicken because I’m way wary at this point. He tells me it has too many bones and I won’t like it. So I don’t bother.
Tommy: I definitely thought Michelle was just being weak/picky when it came to the fake green beans. I popped a couple in my mouth (slowly due to chopsticks skills being low) and to my surprise they were really really hot. I played it off cool though because I didn’t want to lose street credit with the locals and just downed my glass of water. (Michelle – Correction, Mud Water) C-

The rice soup. Rice in wonton soup broth. The rice is therefore weirdly soggy, but I ate it anyway because I had run out of fried rice.
Tommy: I had my fill of soups at this point. No more mystery food. N/A

*I gave all ratings a Chinese culture rating bonus due to me being a foreigner.

That was the meal. Then they took us to a large supermarket because they were worried we didn’t know where to buy groceries, it was nice but awkward because we didn’t need to go. While we are walking around, Tommy bravely asks Lemon if she eats turtle. She says no and we are all relieved that she is way Western normal like. I say, yeah, we never eat turtle in the USA. She looks at me funny and says, “But you eat it for Thanksgiving, yes?” And I’m like …………. Oh no. “We eat turkey.” And she is all embarrassed and says oh yes, turkey. I don’t eat turkey, I eat turtle. And my relief is nowhere in sight.

As we walked past the seafood section and I saw an eel. I nudge Tommy and show him the eel, joking that it was probably the special fish in the creepier fish soup. He goes green.

Once home, we both pop Tums and call it a night. Neither of us felt good after having been poisoned with the authentic Chinese dinner and to this day, I am forbidden from mentioning the creepier fish soup. Bright side: The next day Tommy and I returned to both Guanqian and Pingjiang to explore on our own. We did this beautifully successfully. We ate at McDonald’s again, trying to divest ourselves of our dinner memories, then went back to Pinjiang. This is when we bargained for my panda hat, feeling all cool because we got it for less than she was asking, even though we probably still over paid. We made it back to the subway and returned home to work on our lesson plans for the week. A weekend well spent.